Cookie Q&A: Your Guide to Plant-Based Cookie Success

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Christmas time is cookie time. It doesn’t matter if you’re a staunch believer in the oil-free lifestyle or a lover of all things sweet and sticky — the Christmas season just wouldn’t be complete without a few batches of your old favorites. So grab your cookie sheets, break out the mixing bowls and let’s get started!

Recipes for a Sweeter Holiday

Last year, I rounded up over a dozen cookie recipes ranging from traditional buttery, sugary treats to raw makeovers of the classics. This year’s list is a little shorter and includes a couple of repeats simply because they’re so darn iconic. These five recipes are great for inspiration, and they’re simple enough to tackle even if you’re not terribly familiar with vegan cookie baking:

For those of you who are ready to dive head-first into holiday cookie madness, Pretty Bee has a roundup of 50 — yes, 50 — recipes for you to bake your way through. But you don’t have to try them all. Unless you want to. (If you do, you’re inviting me over, right?)

On the other hand, if you want cookies you can snack on without sending yourself through the roof from the sugar rush, keep an eye out for my healthy-but-tastes-totally-like-candy peanut blossom cookie bite recipe. Believe it or not, they taste exactly like Reese’s Puffs cereal without a single trace of hydrogenated oil, refined sugar, artificial coloring or preservatives. I’ll be posting it in time for the holiday!

Tips for Plant-Based Cookie Successmaking gingerbread cookies

Now that you’ve got the recipes, it’s time for a cookie-baking reality check. I’ve been baking since I was tall enough to see over the counter (okay, my mom did the baking then — I just dumped things in the bowl and went crazy with sprinkles). Even with all that experience and a lot of trial and error since going vegan, there are still times when my baked goods are less than perfect.

Alas, baking is much less forgiving than cooking. Cooking gives you a little wiggle room, and you can generally salvage a “bad” dish with a little creative seasoning. Baking oscillates between demanding precision and not caring what the heck you do. In light of this highly fickle nature, I present to you a few tips for making your holiday cookie baking go more smoothly whether you’re a seasoned vegan cookie connoisseur or new to the world of plant-based desserts.

  • Use smart oil substitutions. I’ve learned from experience that cookies need fat to get the proper chewy or crunchy texture. Standard oil-free substitutions like mashed banana or applesauce result in cake-like finished products, so you’re better off swapping fat for fat using coconut butter or the nut or seed butter of your choice. Dreena Burton has a great primer on this over at Plant-Powered Kitchen, and her suggestions have worked quite well for me!
  • If you use oils, choose wisely. Look for non-hydrogenated options for vegan butter and shortening, such as the Earth Balance and Spectrum brands. In recipes calling for canola oil, either substitute vegan butter or choose a cold-pressed organic brand.
  • For completely oil-free baking, try nonstick mats. Silpat, Silchef and other brands offer silicone baking mats that eliminate the need for greasing cookie sheets and make cleanup easier. If you can’t find nonstick mats, grab a roll of parchment paper instead.
  • Opt for unsweetened, unflavored plant milks. Non-dairy milk can be used cup-for-cup in place of dairy milk, and avoiding sweeteners and flavorings preserves the taste of the cookies. But if you’re feeling adventurous, vanilla, chocolate and “eggnog” flavors can be fun to play with.
  • Need buttermilk? Add one teaspoon of cider vinegar per cup of milk and let it sit for about ten minutes to “curdle.” Ta-da! Vegan buttermilk!
  • Go natural with decorations. Standard food colorings and sprinkles can contain non-vegan ingredients and are almost always artificial. Keep your cookies chemical-free by using products made with vegetable or fruit ingredients from companies like India Tree and Sprinklez.

What if you’re diligent, do everything you should and your cookies still flop? Never fear! There are plenty of ways to “recycle” a less-than-perfect batch:

  • Pulse in the food processor and use them to make a crumb crust or topping for pies and cakes
  • Crumble on top of a bowl of nondairy ice cream
  • Break into chunks and add to a vegan milkshake
  • Invite friends over to help you “dispose” of unattractive cookies
  • Feed the birds in your yard (as long as the cookies aren’t too sweet)

Mittened hands holding hot coffeeWhat’s a Cookie Without a Warm Drink?

I have fond childhood memories of coming indoors after many hours of playing in the snow to sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and my favorite Christmas cookies. It wasn’t exactly the healthiest habit, but I don’t let that put a damper on my nostalgia. In fact, it makes me want to find ways to recreate those memories that don’t sacrifice any of the flavor but are more in line with the way I approach my diet now.

Enjoy your own little trip back in time by pairing your cookies with one of these warming beverages:

  • Luxurious Dairy-Free Hot Cocoa — My absolute favorite from Oh She Glows. She’s not kidding when she calls it luxurious; cashews make it decadent and creamy!
  • Mulled Cider — A classic with step-by-step instructions and pictures courtesy of The Pioneer Woman.
  • Hot Apple Cider with Superfood Power — Healthful Pursuit gives mulled cider a nutritious boost.
  • Vegan Chai Latte — Make this delicious drink at home with simple instructions from The Blenderist.
  • Vegan Peppermint Mocha — Vegnosity’s recipe for this drink is so easy, it’s like having a coffee shop in your kitchen.

Lattes and other drinks can be a bit challenging to recreate at home because non-dairy milks tend to be stubborn about foaming. Hence why I was happily surprised to discover a local cafe using a strange and wonderful product in their drinks — “Barista Series” almond milk from the Pacific brand. I had no idea such a thing existed, but apparently it’s formulated to behave the way milk should when it encounters the foam arm on an espresso machine. I haven’t tried it when making my own drinks, but if you have a way to foam milk at home, I’d say give it a shot (pun intended).

Baking cookies is a great way to get into the Christmas spirit. It’s even better when you bake big batches to give as gifts or share at parties with family and friends. For me, family time is a big part of the holiday season, and Christmas is the most special day of all. Getting in the kitchen and whipping up a batch of sweet homemade nostalgia offers a way to step back from the commercial craziness and reflect on what the holiday is really about and how the birth of the Savior of the world in a stable in Bethlehem changed the course of history for all mankind.

Warm cookies (and drinks) just make it that much nicer. Merry Christmas!

Have you started your holiday baking yet? What traditions do you have in your family? Are you cookie fans, or do you prefer other seasonal sweets?

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Plan a Perfectly Plant-Based Thanksgiving — 2016 Recipe Roundup!

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Let us come before [God’s] presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms. ~ Psalm 95:2

Happy Thanksgiving week, everyone! I hope those of you in Canada enjoyed your October celebration and are prepared to bear with the Americans who haven’t yet gobbled our way through the holiday menu.

Speaking of, who says holidays have to feature traditional dishes? Every year around this time, I see ads for sales on scores of turkey alternatives. These are great options for helping new vegans transition away from meat or to satisfy a mixed vegan and omni crowd without compromising on the inclusion of animal products, but overall I think vegan “turkey” sells the plant-based community short. Plant-based food offers such a wide variety of options for any holiday (Isa’s New Book being a perfect example) that it seems to me there’s no reason to rely on prepackaged substitutions.

With that in mind, I’ve rounded up a collection of traditional and not-so-traditional recipes to grace your Thanksgiving table. From stuffing and stuffed squash to chili and cake, there’s something to satisfy everyone — with no un-turkey in sight!

Salads

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petite-roux/FreeImages

Sides

And then, of course, there’s stuffing. But why settle on just one when One Green Planet has 15?

Main Dishes

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linder6580/FreeImages

I couldn’t resist including this One Green Planet roundup, too, mainly because it contains an ingenious recipe for cauliflower pot roast!

Desserts & Snacks

Beverages

If you’re in the mood for a simple cup of tea, both Learning Herbs and The Kitchn can get you started with homemade chai.


Is this your first vegan Thanksgiving? No worries. Check out my guide to navigating the holidays!

Looking for more recipes? Take a look at last year’s roundup.

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Alya87/FreeImages

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Secrets of the World’s 3 Healthiest Nuts

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Did you know November is National Peanut Butter Lover’s Month? (It’s also National Stuffing Month, but we’ll save that for Thanksgiving.) Being a peanut butter lover myself, I spent some time a couple of weeks ago scouring the Internet for some tasty vegan peanut butter recipes to share, which have been popping up on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn in recent weeks.

I also got to thinking about nuts as part of a plant-based diet. Nuts seem to be either much maligned or joyfully celebrated depending on dietary views. Some people avoid them like the plague, fearing their high fat content. Others liberally munch on them and merrily drizzle nut-based sauces on anything and everything. I fall somewhere in between, preferring to get a dose of whole-food fats from a variety of nuts and seeds every day without going overboard.

There’s no reason to avoid these nutritional powerhouses in your own diet. Nuts are much more than a source of unprocessed fats, and looking at the top three healthiest choices shows why they deserve a place on your plate. (Or in your hand, on salads, in baked goods…)

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blary54/FreeImages

Almonds

Almonds are a personal favorite of mine. Back when there was a shortage of Trader Joe’s raw almond butter, I freaked out when I found jars of it at the Northampton location and promptly bought every single one. I’ve also been known to snack on apples, raisins and almonds pretty habitually in the afternoon to the point where I still refer to the combination as the “old-school Sam snack.”

While you don’t have to be quite so obsessive, it’s a good idea to munch on almonds or enjoy almond butter stuffed dates once and a while. Almonds contain high levels of vitamin E, a natural antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties. Eating the skins increases the antioxidant power.

Compared to other nuts, almonds are high in fiber (3.5 grams per ounce) and protein (6 grams per ounce). They’re also an excellent source of biotin, part of the B vitamin family responsible for helping to metabolize macronutrients, keep nerves healthy and aid in amino acid production. Monounsaturated fats support a healthy heart and cholesterol levels, and eating almonds has been shown to be beneficial for blood sugar levels.

Almonds are perfect in muffins, sprinkled on salads, stirred into oatmeal or used as garnish on Moroccan-spiced dishes!

Pecans

For years, my mom has made the pumpkin pie from The Joy of Vegan Baking for Thanksgiving. The recipe calls for exactly 16 pecan halves, which I’ve diligently picked up from the co-op’s bulk section just in time for baking.

It turns out you don’t need to make excuses to garnish dishes with (or scarf down) pecans during the holidays. The nutritional profile speaks for itself:

  • 12 grams of monounsaturated fat per ounce
  • Lowers LDL and raises HDL for a more favorable cholesterol balance
  • High in antioxidants, including carotenes and ellagic acid
  • High in B vitamins for energy production and metabolism
  • Good source of trace minerals, including copper, manganese, phosphorous and zinc
  • Packed with anti-inflammatory magnesium, which may help lower blood pressure

Of course, if you’re eating pecans covered in sugar or as part of a gooey pie, you’re getting a lot of bad along with the good. Stick to raw or lightly toasted nuts most of the time, and save the treats for special occasions. (Sweet potato casserole, anyone?)

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cripul21/FreeImages

Walnuts

Walnuts are stars when it comes to omega-3 content. High in polyunsaturated fats, these nuts have been studied quite a bit for their heart-healthy qualities. Omega-3s reduce inflammation and promote good blood flow, making them key players in cardiovascular health. One study showed walnuts may be beneficial for bones, too, citing a correlation between high consumption and lower levels of certain bone turnover markers in the body.

Tossing some walnuts on your salad or in your granola also delivers:

  • Phenols
  • Flavanoids
  • Tannins

These all have antioxidant properties, with tannins in particular showing anti-carcinogenic and antimicrobial effects. Some of the antioxidants found in walnuts are hard to get from other foods, so make room for them in your meals whenever you can.

In a (Healthy) Nutshell

I chose these three nuts as “the healthiest” based on Dr. Michael Greger’s video ranking nuts by antioxidant content and several other sources linked throughout the post. But that doesn’t mean other nuts aren’t just as good for you! Peanuts, for example (because, hey, Peanut Butter Lover’s Month!), are high in protein, monounsaturated fats, antioxidants and important trace minerals. Macadamia nuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, pistachios and their other nutty companions are also worth checking out.

So go ahead, get creative. Have some peanut butter toast in the morning. Sprinkle pecans in your salad. Try out cashew butter in your next cookie recipe.

Or get your fix any time of day with these nutty ideas:

Need help making nuts (and other healthy foods) a regular part of your diet? I can get you on track! Book a consultation with GreenGut Wellness today to get a personalized health plan.

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5 Compelling Reasons to Eat Whole Grains

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These robust plant foods offer a wealth of benefits

Grains. Love them or hate them, they’re the foundation of many traditional diets around the world and continue to be a staple in modern civilization. Most of the grains eaten today, however, have been refined to the point where they no longer provide the nutritional value that makes the original whole forms such an amazing staple food. These “empty calories” have given rise to the prevailing thought that grains are bad, carbohydrates are killing us and we all need to run in the other direction every time we see a bowl of rice.

Whole grains, however, are something we should be running to. Slowly but surely, the public eye is being opened to the fact that grains in their original, unrefined forms are among the healthiest foods out there. These grains are nourishing, power-packed choices that can be enjoyed at any meal. They’re delicious savory or sweet, with vegetables or fruit, tossed with herbs or seasoned with spices. However you like to prepare them, grains like rice, quinoa, millet, barley, amaranth, teff, corn and wheat can do amazing things for your health.

Better Heart Health

In How Not to Die, Dr. Michael Greger cites a study showing consumption of three servings of whole grains a day — which is about 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of cooked grains — reduced the risk of a heart attack by 15 percent and strokes by 25 percent. The Whole Grain Council reports higher numbers, showing a 25 to 28 percent risk reduction for heart disease and a 30 to 36 percent drop in stroke risk among those including whole grains in their diets.

stalk of whole grain oatsThe high fiber content of whole grains may have something to do with these benefits, according to Brenda Davis in her detailed compendium, Becoming Vegan. High fiber diets have been linked with a lower overall risk of cardiac events as well as a reduction in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the first place. Fiber combines with cholesterol-rich bile acids and lowers fatty acid synthesis in the liver, leading to lower blood levels of these potentially damaging substances. Fiber may also work to remove undesirable blood clots by breaking down the fibrin necessary for clots to form.

Methyl donors may be another reason why grains are so good at protecting heart health. When the body metabolizes the amino acid methionine, an intermediate compound called homocysteine is formed. Unless homocysteine is remethylated — that is, unless it gets a methyl group from another compound such as choline, betaine or inositol, all found in whole grains — it may lead to an increase in inflammation and promote adhesion within blood vessels. Inflamed blood vessels don’t heal well, and prolonged damage to the inner lining, called the endothelium, can promote clot formation and increase the risk of atherosclerosis. Whole grains also contain vitamin B6, folic acid and zinc, which also play a role in controlling homocysteine levels.

Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Fiber is at least partly responsible for the statistics showing that consuming three servings of whole grains a day can lower diabetes risk by one third. A study by Harvard Medical School showed similar benefits in a group of 11 overweight and obese subjects consuming six to 11 servings of whole grains per day. Even with partially refined foods such as breads, pasta and baked goods included in the serving count, subjects experienced a 10 percent drop in fasting insulin, lower insulin secretions and greater glucose infusion into cells when compared to a similar diet containing refined grains.

When fiber-rich foods are ingested, the fiber delays absorption of both fat and carbohydrates, resulting in a more stable glucose response, which in turns reduces the need for high levels of insulin to normalize blood sugar. Since high blood sugar and excessive insulin production may both contribute to type 2 diabetes risk, it makes sense that whole grains appear to confer benefits. The Whole Grains Council places total risk reduction between 21 and 30 percent for people who consume whole grains.

Cancer Risk Reduction

Phenols, lignans and saponins are phytonutrients found in whole grains, and they’re superheroes in the fight against cell damage. Cells throughout the body are bombarded every day by artificial compounds in food and body care products, chemicals in the environment and the daily effects of metabolism. When left unchecked, the effects of these encounters have the potential to initiate cancer as cells mutate and multiply. Phytonutrients have antioxidant properties to prevent the damage from getting out of hand. The compounds found in whole grains are particularly effective against colorectal cancer. Eating three servings per day has the potential to lower the risk of the developing the disease by 20 percent.

Lignans also act as phytoestrogens, notes Dr. Greger in How Not to Die. These “plant estrogens” create a buffer to control high levels of estrogen associated with hormone-driven cancers, especially those of the breast and prostate. By docking on hormone receptors, phytoestrogens block the more aggressive estrogens believed to play a role in the development of these cancers. To get the benefits of lignans, however, you need a healthy gut. Whole grains contain only the precursors to lignans; a strong community of friendly gut bacteria is necessary to transform them into the final product.

Improved Digestion

whole grain brown rice in a jarEven before people knew what fiber was or how it worked, its role in digestive health was clear. A visit to the General Store & Apothecary Shop at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT, reveals a surprisingly large collection of products created to counteract the effects of inadequate fiber intake in a population that ate a great deal of cured meat and other high-fat, low-fiber fare. The same problems are evident in the large amount of shelf space modern pharmacies devote to digestive aids.

Unfortunately, Americans and other cultures eating predominantly Western-style diets continue to consume levels of fiber far below the recommended amounts, with average intakes hovering around 15 to 17 grams. Adequate Intake (AI) levels are set at 38 grams for men ages 19 to 50 and 25 grams for women in the same age bracket. Older men should consume at least 30 grams and older women at least 20 grams.

Those eating vegan diets that include whole grains average between 35 and 50 grams of fiber per day, and whole-food plant-based diets may provide up to 60 grams of fiber per day. Grains often figure predominantly in these eating plans. Fiber consumed at these levels provides enough food for the diverse community of bacteria that thrives in the human gut. As these bacteria break down strands of fiber, they release short-chain fatty acids that strengthen colon walls. Complex sugars called oligosaccharides act as prebiotics to provide more nourishment for these bacteria.

A strong colon is a healthy colon, and people who eat more fiber may be at a reduced risk for diverticulitis, irritable bowel disease, hemorrhoids and colorectal cancer. In fact, one study showed that consuming ten extra grams of fiber per day reduced the risk of this type of cancer by 10 percent.

Nutrient Content

Refining grains strips away the outer bran and germ, removing up to 80 percent of the healthful compounds that give the whole forms their benefits. When eaten in their unrefined states, grains provide a range of nutrients, including:

  • B vitamins: thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folate
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

Each of these nutrients supports one or more essential bodily processes. Some, like selenium and zinc, act as antioxidants. Zinc is essential for over 100 enzymatic processes, and selenium is a critical component in thyroid hormone conversion. Many B vitamins support energy production and a healthy metabolism. Folate is essential for cell division, which is why pregnant women are encouraged to consume more of this nutrient. Magnesium balances out calcium to promote bone health. Other benefits for immunity and cell activity can also come from these vitamins and minerals.

Learn More About Whole Grain Benefits

The Vegan Health Guide: Whole Grains — Discover the health benefits of specific grains, why you should choose whole instead of refined and how to find the best grains when shopping!

Health Studies from the Whole Grains Council — Search by grain or health condition to find studies detailing the perks of including whole grains in your diet.

More Than Just Fiber? — This abstract discusses the “whole grain package,” suggesting the benefits of these foods may come from far more than the nutrients usually studied in isolation.

Lignans: The Linus Pauling Institute — An objective scientific look at the potential health effects of lignan consumption.


I’d love to hear about why you love whole grains. Share your favorite grains and recipes in the comments!

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Coconut Spinach Rice with Kidney Beans — A Recipe to Feed Your Gut Flora

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Ladies and gentlemen, I love spinach.

Really love spinach.

To the point where I’ll happily buy the 2.5-pound “spinach pillow” sold at the local co-op and blow my way through it in a few days. It goes in everything — breakfast scrambles, oatmeal, salads and, like this recipe, beans and rice.

Of course, there are plenty of other leafy greens to love, which I also enjoy in abundance — kale, chard, bok choy, mustard greens, arugula, dandelion greens, collards…the list goes on. But one thing these other greens lack is the special ability of spinach to almost literally melt into a dish when cooked, an ability I’ve found is crucial to the taste and texture of certain Indian dishes.

coconut-spinach-kidney-bean-rice-curry-recipeI first discovered this when making the chana saag from the Forks Over Knives cookbook. It calls for two pounds, yes pounds, of spinach, which may sound like a lot until you consider just how much spinach cooks down. In this particular recipe, it simmers lightly in some nondairy milk along with the usual spices you find in vegan curry, some tomatoes and a good helping of chickpeas. The end result is something that can only be described as velvety. Other greens just don’t seem to do the same thing.

Hence why spinach was the green of choice for this recipe, although I’ll admit it was also somewhat inspired by the Coco Spinach Rice in The 30-Minute Vegan. Combined with brown rice and kidney beans, spiced with fresh ginger and hot curry powder and cooked in coconut milk until it’s just the right texture, spinach brings an infusion of green and a whole lot of nutrition to this bean and rice dish — including, it turns out, fuel for a healthier gut!

World’s Healthiest Foods gives a detailed breakdown of spinach nutrition, including:

  • 987% daily value of vitamin K in one cup of cooked leaves
  • High in the carotene precursors of vitamin A
  • Good source of folate (as is most foliage!)
  • Good source of minerals such as manganese, magnesium and iron

Research also suggests compounds called glycoglycerolipids, abundant in spinach, may protect against free radical damage in the lining of the gut. Why is this important? Damage can lead to inflammation, and an inflamed gut is an unhappy gut. Eating spinach may help keep inflammation at bay and promote healthy digestion, reducing the risk of diseases associated with a damaged gut lining.

Then, of course, you have the added bonus of beans, which, among other things, provide fiber to feed gut bacteria. I chose kidney beans here for two reasons: one, I’m a sucker for well-balanced colors and the dish needed something red, and two, they have a deeper and more earthy flavor than other bean varieties. This complements the light sweetness of the coconut milk and the heat from the curry spices.

(Just as a side note, you can go as mild or as hot as you like with the curry powder. I like the hot kind from Penzey’s, which delivers a lot of heat. If you’re using a milder mix, you might have to add a little more to get the same depth of flavor.)

Coconut Spinach Rice with Kidney Beans
 
Prep time

Cook time

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This easy dish combines flavorful spices, creamy coconut milk and silky spinach with hearty kidney beans to form a complete plant-based meal. Fiber and other plant starches feed your microbiome, supporting gut health while you enjoy a delicious meal.
Author:
Serves: 4 servings

Ingredients
  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 1½ cups)
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
  • 4 scallions, white and green parts, sliced
  • 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp hot curry powder (I use Penzey’s)
  • ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup light coconut milk
  • 3 cups cooked or 2 (15.5oz) cans low-sodium kidney beans, drained and rinsed if canned
  • 12 to 16 ounces spinach, chopped
  • 1½ cups dry long grain brown rice (basmati is particularly nice)

Instructions
  1. Place the onions in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add a splash of water to the pan if the onions start to stick.
  2. Add the garlic and the white parts of the scallions (save the green parts for garnish). Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant.
  3. Add the rice, coconut milk and curry powder along with 2 cups of water. Cover, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, 40 to 45 minutes.
  4. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, stir in the spinach and beans.
  5. When the rice is done, taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Serve immediately, garnished with the green parts of the scallions.

What’s your favorite leafy green? Can you even decide? Tell me about your favorite dish in the comments!

Looking for more help with gut health? Book a starter package with GreenGut Wellness today and get 10% off with the code GGJS2016 from now until 11/15!

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Staying Healthy on the Outside — Plant-Based Body Care to Feed Your Skin

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With a name like GreenGut Wellness on my logo and an Audible library made up largely of books about food and the microbiome, it’s obvious I’m a little obsessed with gut health. But true health is about a lot more than what you put inside your body — what goes on the outside matters just as much!

Think about it: how often do you later, exfoliate, shampoo, condition, shave and moisturize? How many body care products are you using every day? And what the heck is in them, getting absorbed through your skin and winding up in your bloodstream?

An integral part of going plant-based should be to replace the harmful chemicals in your shower and bathroom cabinets with natural alternatives. Here are five of my personal favorites to get you started.

RAD Soap Co.

In the past, I’ve sung the praises of the truly RAD products made by my friends at the RAD Soap Co. This family owned and operated natural body care company has been growing steadily since I first discovered their table at the Schenectady Greenmarket several years ago. In fact, as I write this, they’re prepping to open their very first retail store in Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany, NY — stay tuned for more on that! (I’ll be plastering the opening all over Instagram, I’m sure.)

RAD stands out with their unique approach to personal care products. Starting with a base of all-natural ingredients derived almost exclusively from plants (a few products do contain beeswax), they add ingredients like beer, coffee, tea and medicinal mushrooms to create soaps, creams, sugar scrubs and lotions unlike anything you’ll find from other companies. They’re big fans of oils like hemp, coconut and olive, and they produce several products specifically targeted to manage common skin conditions.

Over the years, RAD has added pet care products, hand sanitizer, bug repellent and roll-on perfume to their line, using the same all-natural ingredients I fell in love with when I bought my first bar of their soap.

I can’t possibly pick just one product as a favorite from this company, but I’m currently loving the entire line infused with Death Wish Coffee (which yes, is as strong as it sounds). The soap, cream and scrub incorporate caffeine and actual coffee grounds to give your entire body a wake-up call. Turns out caffeinated body care products can also:

  • Tighten skin
  • Fight inflammation
  • Combat free radical damage
  • Reduce the appearance of under-eye circles

I’m fond of using the Shuga Bubs scrub when I’m feeling “blah” and need a quick pick-me-up. It does everything — cleanses, moisturizes and exfoliates — so you get your entire skin care regimen taken care of at once. (Incidentally, if you wash your hair with peppermint Hempstile afterward, your bathroom will smell like a peppermint mocha latte. Just sayin’.)

You can keep up with RAD as they expand the reach of their fantastic vegan-friendly products around the world (literally) by following them on Twitter and Facebook.

organic soap round by mzeynepd freeimages

The Fanciful Fox

I first met Kathie of The Fanciful Fox at a vegfest — I think it was my first year at Vegetarian Summerfest, but it may have been a smaller local festival like Valley VegFest. The reason I can’t remember is that her products pop up at just about every vegan event. Unlike some ubiquitous vendors who you can’t believe keep getting a table, The Fanciful Fox is a spot you’ll want to stop every time you get a chance.

What will you find? A completely vegan line of soaps, hair care, body lotion, lip balm, deodorant and men’s personal care products. My first purchase from the company was, of course, a bar of soap, and it was no small feat to choose which one. With names like Through The Woods and Vegan Bakery, how do you make up your mind?

I have the same problem when picking out a lip balm. Her scents are so spot on that it’s more a matter of deciding what “taste” I want to experience than being concerned over whether or not it will help my dry lips. Since the blend of natural oils and shea butter more than takes care of the latter, the former can become a bit like a trip to a candy shop or soda fountain. I’ve tried the chocolate peanut butter, the peanut butter and the chai tea, and so far it’s impossible to pick a favorite. (Although the chai spice does complement the fall weather nicely.)

Recently, I tried Kathie’s cocoa butter body lotion in the Beatnik Poet scent. Like some of my favorites from RAD, this lotion has a sort of “hippie” vibe thanks to the inclusion of patchouli. I’ll admit that, since discovering RAD, I’ve been reluctant to buy lotion from anyone else, but since I’m already a fan of the “intense” healing balm from The Fanciful Fox (which, for some reason, I can’t find on the website), I wanted to give it a try. It’s smooth, rejuvenating and has a fantastic smell that lingers for just long enough. It’s not quite as thick as some of the lotions I’m used to, but a little still goes a long way.

All ingredients in products from The Fanciful Fox are 100% vegan and “tested on dirty vegans, not animals.” (Best tagline EVER!) Many of the ingredients are fair trade and organic, and every flavor and scent is natural. Check her out on Facebook!

J. R. Liggetts Solid Shampoo Bars

I’ve been a fan of solid shampoo pretty much since I first started dabbling in natural body care and discovered some rather unusual (and kind of over-the-top) shampoo bars. I can’t remember where I first stumbled across J. R. Liggetts, but it’s a far cry from the crazy colors and wacky scents of my first solid shampoo encounters.

The company makes a whole line of bars, but my favorite is the tea tea and hemp. No artificial colors or scents are used — it’s just a blend of natural oils and essential oils with a mild smell and smooth feel. It lathers up richly and leaves your hair squeaky clean — almost literally! I’ve found I need to use conditioner or some other product for added softness to get manageable hair with this one, but that’s okay because there are plenty of natural and vegan options for that, too! My personal favorite quick finisher is a dab of coconut oil rubbed into a combed through damp hair.

The biggest benefit I’ve found from using natural solid shampoos is they bring out my hair’s real color. I didn’t know what my hair actually looked like until I stopped dumping a bunch of chemicals on it. After a while, I noticed it was lighter, shinier and more vibrant — and other people, including my brother and some male friends who don’t usually pay attention to that sort of thing, remarked on the change.

Solid shampoo is great for traveling, too. No worries about your shampoo exploding in your bag and leaking everywhere, and no TSA restrictions if you’re like me and don’t like spending a gazillion dollars on checked baggage.

Flagship Pomade Co. “Insubmersible” Pomade

I had long hair for the first 30 years of my life (except, of course, for those early years when it was first growing in), and last winter I decided I wanted something different and had most of it cut off. This opened up a whole new world of hair care products, including pomade. After some searching, I decided this particular product was the best idea for controlling the inevitable fluffiness and frizz my hair experiences and to ensure my new haircut kept its shape.

(As a side note, I don’t recommend going from long hair to an asymmetrical bob in quick succession when it’s cold out. Your neck will not thank you!)

To find a natural and vegan option, I hit up Etsy and discovered the Flagship Pomade Co. Not all their products are vegan (the oil-based pomades contain lanolin), but The Insubmersible is. Made with a combination of natural wax, oils, borax and essential oils, it’s a thick pomade that works in quickly and leaves hair with a matte finish. The scent is an amazing blend of bay, clove, citrus and vetiver. To me, the predominant scents are orange and spices. It might be too bold for some tastes, but I enjoy it quite a bit.

There’s not much that can tame my hair when the humidity sets in, so the Flagship Pomade Co. gets extra points in my book for creating a product that’s not only vegan but also able to keep my hair smooth in all kinds of weather. I find I can easily pat down or comb out any “imperfections” without a lot of effort when I use this pomade. It’s also great for adding body and texture to layered haircuts.

How to Find Vegan Body Caretake a shower by vierdrie freeimages

With the cosmetics industry responding to consumer demands for more natural products, it’s getting easier to find vegan-friendly products made without a host of potentially harmful chemicals. Look for products sporting official vegan certification, the vegetarian mark or the Leaping Bunny logo to identify vegan and cruelty-free options. Vegan Cuts also offers a monthly beauty box subscription, allowing you to try different products every month and find new favorites.

Just like your gut, you skin has a diverse microbiome that can be disrupted by outside assaults, including common chemicals in body care products. Consider what you put on your body as mindfully as what you put in your mouth — you are, after all, “feeding” your skin every time you apply a product. A good way to determine if a product is safe is to ask yourself if you’d be okay if you ingested it. If it can’t go in you without causing harm, it has no business being on your skin, either.

Of course, in addition to the health benefits of moving away from chemicals in body care, you’ll also enjoy better skin and healthier hair!

What are some of your favorite all-natural, organic and vegan body care products? Share in the comments!

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GreenGut Wellness Partners with MINDBODY

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Book packages and get special deals through the popular wellness app

When I first started thinking about changing Quantum Vegan to GreenGut Wellness, I knew I wanted to expand on my existing services. I wanted to bring people more ways to realize the power of balancing gut health and the benefits of a plant-based diet.

That’s why I overhauled my packages, and to make it even easier for you to find and book what you want, I’ve partnered with the popular MINDBODY app. I’m a huge app fan myself, and this wellness tool is a lot of fun to explore and use. It also includes an online platform if you prefer to book from your computer.

What is MINDBODY?

Basically, MINDBODY is a one-stop shop for fitness, wellness and beauty services. It’s free to download for iOS and Android, and once you get it set up, you can start browsing for whatever you want in your area. If anyone nearby is running special deals, those will pop up on the screen or when you look at a specific business. Classes and appointments are booked right from the app.

Just like on Google or Yelp, you can leave reviews for your favorite places. But unlike sifting through a bazillion Google listings to find something that sounds even remotely like what you want, MINDBODY breaks everything down by location. When you find a class or service you like, you can save the provider as a favorite so that you can go back and look at their roster any time.

Healthy Gut Services Made Easy

With all its features, I felt MINDBODY was a good fit for GreenGut Wellness. Now that my services are listed in the app, you can:

  • Book a full package from your desktop or mobile device – or if you see me in person!
  • Pay with any major credit card, anywhere, any time
  • View your schedule from the app so that you never miss a session
  • Add GreenGut Wellness as a favorite
  • Rate your experience and leave a review

Confirmations and reminders for your appointments pop up in your inbox or as text messages – whichever works best for you. If you’re the type of person who likes having your whole schedule at your fingertips (or, like me, you do way better when someone reminds you of upcoming events), MINDBODY is a convenient way to manage your personal health plan.

Upcoming Features

Right now, I’m offering my four main packages through MINDBODY. In the future, I’d like to add:

  • A recurring payment option for packages
  • Build-your-own consulting packages
  • Webinars
  • Classes

And I’d love to hear what you want to see! How can GreenGut Wellness make your experience even easier? Let me know how I can help you achieve better health.

Do you use the MINDBODY app? What do you think of it?

Don’t forget to find GreenGut Wellness and mark it as a favorite the next time you sign in! I can’t wait to work with you through this new platform.

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